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Cognitive Health and Mindful Eating: What Strategies Can You Take to Improve Both.

Updated: Jul 5, 2023


Cognitive health and Mindful eating strategies

We live in a hectic age; always rushing to get to an appointment, finish a deadline, trying to fit as much in our day as we can. We grab the easiest options for food so we can hurry, eat, and get to the next task that we need to get too. By the end of the day we are stressed, exhausted, and most likely have trouble in the bathroom departments due to all the stress we must deal with.


Long term this is not a sustainable way to live. Being overly stressed will lead to weight gain, lack of sleep, poor nutrient absorption, hormonal imbalances, lack of motivation, eventually can turn into chronic diseases. These symptoms lead to coping strategies that are unhealthy and can cause more harm than help. Today we are going to talk about better ways to improve cognitive health through nutrition and activity, to be more mindful during your day.


Diet and exercise are always one of the first recommendations when trying to improve our health. Going as far as to improve depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, all benefit from improving your diet and exercise. What about focus & memory? How do we improve our cognitive health as well to better support our overall mental game?


Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the term given to where there is a slight but noticeable decline in cognitive abilities. There are two types of MCI: (1) “amnestic MCI” affects a person’s recall and ability to remember things such as an event coming up or a doctor’s appointment and (2) “non-amnestic MCI “includes thinking skills, such as ability to decide or problem-solving complex tasks. These symptoms can lead to increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. (Opler2019)


To improve your mental game regular aerobic exercise with a recommendation of trying the DASH diet. A study done on December 19, 2018, at Duke University Medical center reported older adults living with symptoms of MCI participated in a 6-month case study where participants worked out aerobic 3 times per week follow the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).


The improvement after the 6 months was substantial, specifically in there executive functioning which refers the way our brain processes activities in the frontal lobe of the brain. Especially when remembering things, organizing tasks, time management, creativity, and the ability to focus on a task for long periods of time.

The DASH diet was created specifically for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. They choose to use this type of diet in the study because of the overlapping risk factors for dementia and cardiovascular disease. The DASH diet helps with over wellness and a great starting point to getting your nutrition under control.


Other ways to improve your cognitive help is incorporating mindfulness and mindful eating. Scheduling daily breaks from electronics and distractions will decrease stress and give you the mental break you need. This will also help get some of your energy back as well!


If you want to have a brain boost gear towards foods that help with improving your mood and reducing anxiety. Food isn’t and end all heal all, but we can take advantage of food that will increase serotonin levels, which improve mood, happiness, and sleep.


If you regularly consume food high in omega- 3 fats and vitamin D, Zinc, Magnesium, and improving gut health by using probiotics can help improve overall mood and reduce anxiety.


Gut microbiome and related gut- brain axis, may play a big roll in anxiety and depression. Gut microbiome is bacteria, fungi, and viruses living in our intestines which have been linked to satiety levels, blood sugar regulation, inflammation, hunger, food allergies, mental health, and metabolic issues.


Foods that contain artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and have lack of fiber (which help with transfer of waste, cholesterol, and dead cells) link to gut issues. Foods that are natural, and rich in fiber improve overall gut health. Probiotics may contribute to restoring gut microbiome as well there for have a potential role in treatment and prevention of anxiety.

Make sure you eat a diverse diet with minimally proceeded foods, avoid artificial sugar, color, flavors, and add fermented foods to help feed the microbiome. Keeping it diverse will help strengthen your microbiome and better able to handle stress placed on it.


Mindful eating also contributes to overall improvement of mood, mental productiveness, stress reduction as well as over lower caloric intake. Here are some steps to take to implement mindful eating into your daily routine. Starting off with one meal a day a few times a week will help get the ball rolling and build up consistency over time. Eventually you will notice that you are tasting your food more, enjoying the texture, smell, and overall enjoying your food more.


Calorie consumption can be reduced 100-300 calories daily, this might not seem like a large amount; but when calculated yearly, this accumulates to an average of 31lbs weight gain per year! A staggering amount for nibbling on a few things in the office at home and on your kid’s plate. If you consume more than what your body can use through out the day you will gain weight.


Here is a list of strategies that you can apply daily to help with over consumption and mindless eating:


1. Pay attention to portion sizes, make it a goal to use a smaller plate, measuring your food, or using hand portion sizes to help with maintaining you macronutrient (amount of carbohydrates, fats, protein, you need per meal) .

2. Eat with a 20-minute timer, once your stomach and GI tract sense food consumption and the food entry into the blood trigger neural and hormonal responses that turn off your hunger sensation. This takes at least 20 minutes after the first bite. On average food consumption compared to fast food takes up to 11 minutes and moderately priced restaurant food takes about 28 minutes. If going out to eat try to match the speed of the slowest eater! This will help you enjoy your food and help with proper digestion and less calorie consumption.

3. We like bargain and buy in bulk, but this can lead to over consumption. Buying small portions that are in a concealed container will help reduce the urge to grab another serving. Out of sight out of mind, this can be applied to leaving sweets out of the kitchen and not having them in the home. Having the food out of site This will created a “pause point”, where one has a moment to consciously contemplate snacking and to avoid mindless eating.

4. Do not deprive your self of food. Many food cravings are triggered by thoughts, emotions, and environmental stimuli. Food becomes our prime target to satisfying those needs. Positive mood generally leads to healthier food choices in comparison to negative mood. A good strategy to reduce the craving is apply the trigger to another type of stimuli like calling a friend, writing in the journal, playing with a pet, or doing an activity. Keep it simple, most of the time the cravings are short lived taking up to 20 minutes to dissipate. If the trigger persists, allow yourself a small mindful indulgence to avoid a complete binge.

5. Another effective strategy is to give yourself an ability to choose your behavior action but be aware of the consequences that come with these indulgences. For example, 100 calorie snack is equivalent to a 23-minute walk or standing for 52 minutes. Walking 20 steps for women and 17 steps for men will burn 1 calorie or 1 minute of walking will burn up to 4-5 calories. Be creative with these strategies and fun with these strategies!

6. Know your dietary danger spots, locations where we tend to exhibit poor dietary behaviors (food choice, portion sizes, or rate of food consumption). Get familiar with any environments that might trigger you to overindulge, if you know you will be going to your danger spots allow your self a small indulgent but managed.

7. Habit stacking is a great way to create better habits over time. You would take something you would want to get better at and pair your trigger with healthier options. For example, if you drink 3 cups of coffee a day and would like to reduce caffeine consumption. You would have a cup of coffer and pair it with a cup of water. Taking a sip of each and pairing them together; you consume less and get more water consumption at the same time!



Now that you have a general idea on how to improve your mental, emotional, and physical health with better strategies for building consistency with habits; you can apply this a little bit at a time until you become more comfortable with being mindful and eating an overall balanced diet.


References:

1. Nitschke. E. “Happiness Hacks: How to Boost You Mood Naturally.”(AUG.2019) https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/7352/happiness-hacks-how-to-boost-your-mood-naturally/

2. Opler.L. “Diet and Exercise Show Promis in Addressing Mild Cognitive Impairment.”(Jun2019) https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/7352/happiness-hacks-how-to-boost-your-mood-naturally/

4. Comana. F. “Mindless to Mindful Eating for Weight Loss”. (Mar2013) https://blog.nasm.org/fitness/mindless-to-mindful-eating-for-weight-loss














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